Should Eureka Seven AO Be Seen Before Its Predecessor?
Within big franchises there has always been the question of whether it is worth approaching stories from a different sequence than the creators intended. Whether you watch the original Star Wars trilogy (1977) first, the remakes second, or simply ignore the new ones entirely is a matter of personal preference and passionate nerd debate. In the anime world, watching shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) in a different order can help enhance the experience. More lengthy titles like Bleach (2004), Naruto (2002) or Inuyasha (2000) have webpages dedicated to the filler arcs and urge viewers to skip these. In a best case scenario altering how you consume entertainment can help you pick up plot points you didn’t notice the first time, experience the story afresh or renew a flame for an old favorite.
Sunrise is one of Japan’s biggest animation studios and is most famous for the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise which started in 1979 and still hasn’t stopped. A couple of members from Sunrise founded studio BONES in 1998. BONES first step into anime was a collaboration with Sunrise to produce the critically acclaimed Cowboy Bebop (1998). From there, they have created a stream of popular and successful series which are often named as ‘gateway titles’ for the anime medium: Wolf’s Rain (2003), Scrapped Princess (2003), Full Metal Alchemist (2003) and Ouran High School Host Club (2006) are just a number of these.
Eureka Seven (2005)
After the worldwide success of Fullmetal Alchemist in 2003 Newtype USA marketed BONES’ next project, Eureka Seven (2005) as “their next big hit”. With little information to go off besides a fast paced trailer and catchy theme song, viewers could only assume it would fit the action-packed, plot-driven formula they know and love from animation studio. Die hard action fans were immediately proven wrong when the first episode Blue Monday, aired. On contraire to the fast paced storytelling of Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka Seven took a more serious route. Eureka Seven’s focus is its character interaction and world building. Renton Thurston is a 14-year-old boy with big dreams and a contrasting dull reality. His life begins to change when a giant robot piloted by a mysterious girl crashes into his house.
Much like the fantasy novel Eragon by Christopher Paolini Eureka Seven’s story is explored from the eyes of the protagonist, Renton. The viewer only learns about the villains motives once he runs into them. It doesn’t stop the show from showing scenes with mysterious sinister people, but their ramblings make little sense until later. The series can seem slow for this reason. Renton often narrates scenes and gives them his own context, as though he is speaking from a point in the future as homage to his long-lost sister. We learn about his thoughts, fears, hopes and doubts. This style tells the viewer straight away the series is about Renton’s emotional journey, and not an excuse for explosions.
This storytelling method aside Eureka Seven shines in every other area. It is obvious, again, from episode one that a lot of thought went into the Eureka Seven universe. It exceeds in its detail of its futuristic setting. Agriculture, religion, transportation, economy, social structure, flora, history and fauna are explored. Eureka Seven also has a variety of likable, interesting characters which we learn a lot about on Renton’s journey. The animation is brilliant, from its color palate, detailed background art, impressive fight scenes to the stylish character designs by Kenichi Yoshida (animator of BONES, Sunrise and various Studio Ghibli titles). The soundtrack by composer Naoki Sato is emotive and rich, and the songs have a distinct, modern vibe. At 50 episodes long it isn’t void of filler, there is an episode about the characters playing soccer, but even that has a cheesy justification. It shares the pacing and mellow, moving tone of Studio Ghibli films like Whisper of the Heart (1995) and The Secret World of Arriety (2010).
The series is divided into story arcs: episodes one to ten could be considered Act 1 of a film. It introduces all the major characters, describes to the viewer the type of world they live in, some of their personal struggles and hints of the overarching story. The Gekkostate crew run errands, try to earn some cash and have fun, like a laid back version of the Cowboy Bebop team. It is both intriguing, funny and touching. Episodes eleven to nineteen start to shake the foundations. The villains cause some trouble and the darker side of the Gekkostate members and Eureka Seven universe is shown. This includes what is commonly known as the “cave arc”, which made me feel like I was watching parts of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986). Episodes twenty to twenty-eight separate the two main characters. This allows the two of them to function independently of the other and define their own values in respect to the ever-darkening world around them. It builds heavily upon the setting and the relationships the characters have with each other. The remaining episodes alternate between all running storylines and relationships, bring the underlying plot out in the open and resolve it.
Eureka Seven may not have had as much of a noticeable impact on the anime community, but was greeted with positive critique. Eureka Seven won multiple awards in Japan including Best Screenplay, Character Designs and “Animation series of 2006”. In the West, the Eureka Seven DVD sales became harder to find as printing numbers decreased with each release. This shows the smaller audience Eureka Seven appeals to. It did however air on Adult Swim in 2006 and was rebroadcast on Toonami in 2012, so it became somewhat mainstream. The last episode ended with a cliffhanger of an epilogue. While all the story points were resolved it left space for a sequel, which is where its baby, Eureka Seven AO comes into the picture seven years later.
Eureka Seven AO: Astral Ocean (2012)
In 2012 the 26 episode Eureka Seven AO graced Japan’s screens to fans delight. Breaking away from the main cast of the original and cutting its running time, AO depicts the life of thirteen year old Ao Fukai in search for his mother (Eureka). Despite sharing the beautiful aesthetics and setting of Eureka Seven it was met with a huge backlash, like the internet rage when the Endless Eight arc of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 2 came out. It changed Eureka Seven to an action-packed shounen formula with the characters barely holding up its roof. It has also been commonly criticized as contradicting a lot of the ideologies of the original 2005 series, and ending with no strong conclusion. Many fans have treated it the same as the stand-alone movie Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers. In order to deal with the ‘trauma’ the fans pretend it doesn’t exist.
If you take comparisons for Eureka Seven out of the picture, Eureka Seven AO has a lot of positive qualities. It has a fantastic, original setting. Even though a lot of the terminology here is only introduced, its visuals are gorgeous, bringing forth some of the best in the genre, outside Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid (2005). The colors are soft and backgrounds nicely detailed. The character designs are by Hiroyuki Oda (Oreimo) this time around, but he manages to stay faithful to the style of the original and fool everyone. All the characters look different in their face structure, body posture, instead of just their hair! Eureka Seven AO looks good even when a fight scene is not occurring, although these are the obvious highlight. The soundtrack is the first exploration of music by animator Koji Nakamura but he does well. It very much mimics the style of brilliant orchestrated soundtrack by Naoki Sato and is memorable, emotive and beautiful. The ending songs fare better than the openings, which are forgettable. The English dub fares very well in terms of casting and delivery. Johnny Yong Bosch and Stephanie Sheh return for their roles as Renton and Eureka. Johnny Bosch even tries to make his voice sound gruff, like Holland’s seiyu in the Japanese. The only disappointment is Todd Haberkorn as Truth. Even though the acting is passable his deeper, rough tone doesn’t fit the slick and sly style Truth has going for him.
The content of AO is where it becomes a hit or miss product. Ao is a far braver, less whiney version of Renton although he is not explored in a great deal of detail. Granted, he is only thirteen so there’s not much for us to go off. He is a likable enough lead and does better than Kira from Gundam Seed. Apart from Ao, Fleur, Ivica an Ao’s parents themselves are given the most attention and they are the most likable. Not to say the other characters don’t get anything, but Truth and Elena’s stories are not explained in the most logical, sensible way. Information is not revealed in chronological order and is merged with dream sequences. It is left largely up to speculation about what the true motives of these characters were. The most misleading character was Naru. She is Ao’s closest friend and yet she does not seem to share that role in the series. Her role seems to be a plot device to explain particular elements of the Ao universe. Perhaps the writers tried to do too much within 26 episodes however the characters stories could have made more sense if they were dedicated an episode each perhaps, or executing Naru and Elena’s stories in chronological order.
Eureka Seven AO has its own fair share of problems as did the original, but slow pacing is not one of them. In fact, it could arguably be the opposite. The first nine episodes or so follow a typical Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) plotline, just a lot prettier with less angsty teens. Our Angels this time around are Secrets, or G-Monsters (why did they have to make it have two names?) and Ao along with Genertion Bleu aim to eradicate them from the island of Okinawa. This is simple fun, quite like the start of Eureka Seven. The introduction of the villain Truth boosts the entertainment factor. He is hell-bent on causing chaos, for reasons we don’t yet know. From episode thirteen onwards AO makes it clear that it’s more about the story than the characters. It becomes less an Evangelion clone and sets itself apart with one of the most confusing uses of time travel I’ve ever seen, paralleled only by Season 6 of Doctor Who. This only gets worse when the ending comes along. It ends open-ended but lays enough clues that you can guess what the creators were trying to do if you watch it enough times.
All in all AO shares a lot more in common with other pre-existing mecha franchises than it’s preceder. It has a bunch of political, battle-tactic, ramblings about justice from Gundam or Code Geass, G-Monster of the week theme from Evangelion, and a bunch of Stephen Moffat inspired plot twists. It’s high production values make it better than your average mecha show. It is not perfect by any means but it is entertaining from start to finish. There is no filler in this show, but a lot of story points they could have explained better. Eureka Seven AO isn’t worth taking seriously and introduces many of the ideas that are further explored in the 2005 series. Even though it falls short in a few areas, it is a decent introduction to the franchise and some of its themes. Recommended for mecha fans whom would like to see something with a different vibe.
What Are The Fans To Do?
If both series were created by BONES, what went wrong? We can only guess the reasons why the formula between the series was changed, but a few clues are available if you look at the staff behind the screen. The director couldn’t have been the reasons behind the change. Tomoki Kyoda directed both series, and although most of his experiences comes from storyboard work a returning member from Eureka Seven should have made Ao have a similar tone. It certainly wasn’t the aesthetics side of AO which was its downfall, as BONES managed to replicate the style of the original even though the staff were different. This was a clever move. It’s a shame that the integral planning and writing stages of the series is where AO fails.
The flaws of AO were in the writing. Dai Sato (Wolfs Rain, Eden of the East) did the series composition for Eureka Seven and wrote 12 of the episodes, but sadly he did not return for AO. This could easily explain AO’s different style and story issues. The person who wrote the most episodes (10) for AO was Shou Aikawa (Full Metal Alchemist, The Twelve Kingdoms). While his resume is impressive as it stands, it looks like a serious mecha stories are not part of his repertoire. It is interesting to note that the first 3 episodes of AO, which among haters are considered the most Eureka Seven-esque episodes were written by Kakuto Takeyoshi, who also did the series composition for AO. He may not have been part of the original crew but it would have been amazing to see what Takeyoshi could have done with the rest of AO if he was given the green light. It is a nice commemoration to his talent though. Perhaps he will get some other projects to work on soon.
How should fans approach this version of the story considering how different they are? Most of the negative response for AO is in comparing it to the original series, and how it behaves as a sequel. However, because the nature of the series (revealed in episode 13), there’s no reason AO couldn’t be seen first, with Eureka Seven second. The average mecha fan will probably find Eureka Seven the more enjoyable watching second, as it would answer a lot of unexplained concepts in AO. It would also show them more of the characters with small cameos in the original (Eureka and Renton). The only thing one would need to be ready for is the transition from plot-driven to character-driven series. Regardless which series you watch first the terminology used in AO is confusing, and partly explained later so this is something that could be pushed to the side.
Even though fans looked forward to seeing Eureka and Renton from where they left off, Eureka Seven AO has done a few positive things for the franchise. In Japan’s Weekly CD & DVD ratings in March 2012 the first DVD of Eureka Seven ranked number 15, seven years after its original release. This displays that Eureka Seven AO was able to suck in a new set of viewers who had not seen the original. Instead of making the newcomers angry, responses were positive and showed interest in the original. This means when they move from AO to Eureka Seven, they will get a more well-rounded view of the setting, while enjoying a more detailed cast of characters. If Eureka Seven Ao was created for bringing in a new audience this is what it manages to do. Regardless of which one you watch first, he Pslams of the Planets franchise is a great one to look into for its rich background, characters and variety of stories.
What do you think? Leave a comment.